Toward Plastic Smart Windows: Optimization of Indium Tin Oxide Electrodes for the Synthesis of Electrochromic Devices on Polycarbonate Substrates

Plastic smart windows are becoming one of the key elements in view of the fabrication of inexpensive, lightweight electrochromic (EC) devices to be integrated in the new generation of high-energy-efficiency buildings and automotive applications. However, fabricating electrochromic devices on polymer substrates requires a reduction of process temperature, so in this work we focus on the development of a completely room-temperature deposition process aimed at the preparation of ITO-coated polycarbonate (PC) structures acting as transparent and conductive plastic supports. Without providing any substrate heating or surface activation pretreatments of the polymer, different deposition conditions are used for growing indium tin oxide (ITO) thin films by the radiofrequency magnetron sputtering technique. According to the characterization results, the set of optimal deposition parameters is selected to deposit ITO electrodes having high optical transmittance in the visible range (∼90%) together with low sheet resistance (∼8 ohm/sq). The as-prepared ITO/PC structures are then successfully tested as conductive supports for the fabrication of plastic smart windows. To this purpose, tungsten trioxide thin films are deposited by the reactive sputtering technique on the ITO/PC structures, and the resulting single electrode EC devices are characterized by chronoamperometric experiments and cyclic voltammetry. The fast switching response between colored and bleached states, together with the stability and reversibility of their electrochromic behavior after several cycling tests, are considered to be representative of the high quality of the EC film but especially of the ITO electrode. Indeed, even if no adhesion promoters, additional surface activation pretreatments, or substrate heating were used to promote the mechanical adhesion among the electrode and the PC surface, the observed EC response confirmed that the developed materials can be successfully employed for the fabrication of lightweight and inexpensive plastic EC devices.